Like all members of Canuck Nation, we here at Critically Canuck have suffered a long time. We will not die happily unless the Stanley Cup makes its way to Stanley Park.
Here you'll get the straight goods on our heroes. With both feet on the bandwagon, we will, however, pull no punches. As long time season ticket holders, that's our prerogative.
Expect analytical insight with a strong sense of history. We'll ask the tough questions. And answer them. Enjoy.
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It is hard to imagine a more perfect weekend for the local hockey club. The current franchise icons had their contracts extended, their only hall of fame player had his number finally and rightfully enshrined and the hometown heroes dispatched the previously high riding Maple Leafs in easy, but dramatic fashion.
With the news of the Sedin contract extension surfacing on Friday, it was easy to feel a little sorry for Pavel Bure, whose long-deferred moment of respect was at risk of being overshadowed.
But this kind of news could not be surpressed and will put to rest a matter that was only weeks away from becoming a significant distraction for the club.
In the end, a four year commitment to these players is not surprising nor exorbitantly expensive. And it is consistent with Mike Gillis’ organizational modus operandi.
Ultimately, it is a move that will ensure the Canucks are competitive for quite some time. Though with the Sedins’ confirmed inability to consistently score in the post-season, a salary commitment of this size will likely impair the club’s championship aspirations lest the long anticipated emergence of some youthful scoring ever happens.
As for Bure, we’ve blogged endlessly that his moment of recognition from the club was long overdue. Simply put, he was the most exciting player, not only in franchise history, but of the entire post-Gretzky generation. He singlehandedly put the Canuck franchise on the sporting map and catapulted them into the global business they’ve become. Whatever version of his demise in this market you accept, he’d done more than enough to merit the ultimate recognition he received last night.
The 4pm local start time certainly ensured that the rest of the nation got a reminder about how great he was - and though few will admit it, he represents the greatest player to lace them up for a Canadian team since Gretzky left Edmonton. Like Don Cherry (or Ron McLean) would ever tell you that.
Some interesting revelations from last night’s ceremony:
Pat Quinn has dramatically aged. He has in recent years lost his trademark girth, but now appears frail and gaunt. We hope he is well.
The grumbling boo-littered reception for Mike Gillis was shocking. He’s gotten a mostly free pass from the media in this town, but clearly the fan-base has become impatient. Anyway, at that moment, as the ultimate architect of the ceremony, deserved a better response.
Pavel was remarkably well spoken, humble and thankful. It’s a shame that his introversion and shyness were mistaken for indifference, or worse, to this insecure market all those years ago.
Any reference to the ceremony cannot be complete without reference to Pavel’s wife, whose choice of attire was a welcome distraction for many, icing on the proverbial cake.
As for the game, the choice of opponent represented the site of Bure’s greatest post-season accomplishment, notwithstanding his trademark first round game seven double overtime winner. In the ‘94 five game semi-final dismissal of the Leafs, Bure was easily the Canucks’ best player, scoring often and in his typical thrilling fashion against arguably the greatest Leaf team since 1967.
And this time, the Leafs rolled into town as one of the league’s supposed heavyweights so says the frenzied media in the centre of the universe - a young quick team with significant size and two supposed number one goalies.
But the Canucks, as they have for many, many years, dominated the Leafs. If not for some lucky saves from the nervy James Reimer, it could have been a 7-0 blowout.
In the end, the Canucks looked inspired, as they have most nights of the John Tortorella era. And despite an ineffective power play, were full value for the 4-0 win.
The Leafs looked flat and frustrated, a failing that will be chalked up by their friendly media to the travel no doubt. Or more likely a second period incident that resulted in a significant injury to Leaf centre David Bolland and a goal for malingned Canuck winger Zack Kassian
As Zack Kassian steered the hated David Bolland into the boards, he severely cut his leg in the process with Kassian then scoring while Bolland was agonizing and out of the play.
As with most incidents in the NHL these days, one’s perspective is defined by what team they back. Kassian will argue he was simply finishing his check. Leaf fans will accuse him of an intentional kick to the unprotected back of Bolland’s leg.
It seems clear that Kassian appears to steer Bolland into the boards using his left leg while finishing his check - not necessarily “dirty”, but clearly, in hindsight, dangerous. He’s a repeat offender. And it’s against the Leafs on HNIC. This guy seems to have the luck of Todd Bertuzzi. If he only had the game.
No matter, with their only hall-of-famer officially celebrated, their iconic franchise leading scorers again contractually committed and another nationally televised beat-down of the hated Maple Leafs in the books, all is good. For now.
You’d think that the breaking news of ex-New York Rangers’ head coach John Tortorella interviewing for the Canucks’ vacant coaching job is simply a matter of General Manager Mike Gillis operating in his typical methodical fashion, taking his due diligence to the maximum.
After all, no other potential coach would draw nearly the ire in this market as the prickly Tortorella.
There is, of course, the mind-numbingly boring playing style he has insisted his team adopt in recent years. In Tortorella’s world, everyone is a shot blocker. The muckers muck. And the scorers are expected to as well lest they want to find themselves parked in the press box. Indeed, if finicky Canuck fans were bored by watching this year’s edition, they’d be driven even further away by the drudgery of a Tortorella team that believes every game should end 1-0.
More notoriously, it is Tortorella’s relationship with the media that would rub many the wrong way in this town. But with the on-ice entertainment value of this team fading fast, the off-ice sideshow could be a welcome distraction. Anything would be more riveting than Alain Vigneualt’s accommodating but always vanilla relationship with the media darlings in this town. Indeed, many in the local sports press could use a good verbal ass hammering from the vicious Tortorella.
But more realistically, Tortorella is a winner. And while the antics of his team during his time in New York would not likely pass muster in a more fickle market like Vancouver, it is worth noting that his 2004 Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning were THE most entertaining team of that era - the one that sadly preceded another descent into dead puck purgatory. The simple fact is that he’s proven to be adaptable for the time and place. And successful all the while.
Further, while it might be trendy to go with highly touted but unproven younger coaching talents like Dallas Eakins (who opted to sign with the youthful Oilers) or current Kings’ assistant coach John Stevens or even Canucks’ minor league head boss Scott Arniel, Mike Gillis may not simply have the luxury of waiting to see how these coaching talents develop at the big league level.
While Gillis may like to think his talk of another organizational reset will buy him another 5 year mandate, it is impossible to see how that would be possible. The dreaded closing of the contender window has irreversibly begun. And the experienced, but volatile Tortorella might be just the man to get the maximum out of what had become an underachieving crew in Alain Vigneault’s hands-off country club.
Five years into the Mike Gillis era, we are still awaiting final delivery of the brash and bold out-of-the-box thinking that was promised. The move to a volatile coaching winner, who has a typically short shelf life, could be the needed high-risk, high-reward gamble for a team that is running out of time…
Yesterday’s announcement of the firing of Canuck coach Alain Vigneault was certainly inevitable, though, in the minds of many, not deserved. Canuck President and General Manager Mike Gillis was sacrificing his coach to save himself many said. It is Gillis, who deserves the scrutiny many will say. And not Vigneault, the media friendly long-term coach, who has easily amassed the best coaching record in franchise history.
And certainly Gillis’ body of work requires plenty of critical appraisal at this point. And that will most certainly come. If it already hasn’t. It was obvious from Gillis’ demeanour yesterday that he is clearly feeling the heat.
But the time for a coaching change in Vancouver had long passed. Despite Vigneault’s gaudy record as Canuck boss, his day was done. Witness the following.
Since the Stanley Cup loss to Boston two years ago, the number of sixty minute efforts expended by his squad could be counted on one hand. The President’s Trophy and divisional titles in that span were buoyed by a weak schedule and strong goaltending. We won’t go so far to say his team had tuned him out, but they had become a mostly complacent crew, fully exposed in their consecutive first round playoff exits to lower seeded opponents.
Inconsistent Player Development
During his time here, Vigneault displayed an inability to consistently nurture young talent. In the salary cap constrained world, getting contributions from young players with small salaries is paramount.
To his credit, Vigneault developed the likes of Ryan Kesler, Jannik Hansen and Chris Tanev. But more strikingly, players like Cody Hodgson and Zack Kassian could never find their way out of his doghouse. The rift with Hodgson, in fact, began when Coach Vigneault accused the rookie of faking what turned out to be a serious back injury.
Clearly, young players who were committed to defense first (like Tanev and Hansen) would be in the good books of Vigneault, while those with creative offensive instincts (Hodgson and Kassian) would be forever shackled. At yesterday’s press conference, Gillis acknowledged the importance of getting contributions from younger players going forward, a passive indictment of Vigneault’s record in that regard.
Repeated Playoff Failures
Many will remember Coach Vigneault as the man who coached the Canucks to within a game of the Stanley Cup. History will show, however, that his teams notoriously under achieved in the playoffs.
His Canuck teams played in twelve playoff series (with home ice advantage in ten of them), winning six times. More recently, they have lost ten of their last 11 playoff games despite being the favourite. And most tellingly, their playoff elimination game record during his seven years at the helm featured only eight wins in 21 attempts - a glaring signal that his team could not play their best when it mattered most.
Hired to be Fired
Finally, and most importantly, coaching changes work. The history of sport does not feature stories of immeasurable patience in your coaching staff being rewarded with championships. It simply does not happen. In fact, the opposite is typically true. Of the last ten Stanley Cup champions, the average tenure of the head coach has been two seasons. Three times in that period, the winner has featured a coach in his first season with the club.
So after seven seasons, Coach Vigneault winds up where all coaches eventually do. He had tremendous opportunity here, one that was left mostly unfulfilled. And on that basis, while amassing the best record in franchise history, will not be remembered as the greatest Canuck coach ever. By no means is he solely responsible for this organizational failure, but he is certainly the most easily accountable at this moment in time.
Yesterday, Vancouver Canucks’ President and General Manager addressed the media in his annual post-season delivery. In the wake of a second straight embarrassing playoff exit, he had plenty to answer for. And did so in his typically uncomfortably smug and evasive style.
Unlike seasons’ past, his support of his coaching staff was not explicit - the foregone conclusion being that head coach Alain Vigneault (who was absent from the proceedings) will be replaced in the coming weeks.
Gillis made multiple references to this season being a “messed up” one, negatively impacting his plans in a number of ways. Apparently, the lockout (which was anticipated by everyone) impaired his ability to move Roberto Luongo. Further, the parity induced by a shortened season made for a cluttered trading market with too many buyers and not enough sellers.
These comments, true as they may be, are simply excuses for a job that was not done. Coming from the smug Gillis, this is as close to an admission of guilt as we’ll get.
He spoke of “resetting” the organization as he did when he started here five years ago. The fact is that “resetting” amounted to sticking with the blueprint of the previous regime, retaining the same head coach and core players. The success of the early Gillis years proved it was the right decision, but proving how much credit Gillis should get for it is another matter entirely.
With particular reference to the four game sweep at the hands of the San Jose Sharks, Gillis referenced the notion of “luck”. After all, the Canucks were inches from a Jannik Hansen empty net goal that would have clinched game 2 and were then torpedoed by borderline penalty calls that cost them game 4. These points are duly noted but can’t hide the fact that the team failed to win a single game. Nor was there any qualification of their ride to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final on Kevin Bieksa’s lottery like stanchion assisted game winner.
There was also reference to how the game has changed and how the Canucks must adapt to that change. Gillis spoke of this new emphasis on size and toughness as if it was some scientific revelation that could only now be completely accepted and acted upon. In fact, it’s been the modus operandi for successful playoff teams more often than not for simply generations. And has been as clear as day to anyone specifically following this team since the flame out Stanley Cup loss to Boston two years ago.
As it relates to the self-induced goaltending controversy, there was finally an admission that Roberto Luongo has “likely” played his last game in this market. And optimistically, Gillis declared that there should be more options available this summer for a Luongo exit. We can only infer that Luongo will now desperately accept a trade to anywhere.
In short, the offerings of Gillis were predictable - long on excuses and short on culpability. There was, at least, an acknowledgement that some significant things need to happen. And whether or not the relative success of the Gillis era accrues entirely to him (or previous management regimes), it appears such success will allow him another opportunity to do what needs to be done.
As we begin yet another summer of our discontent, we present our annual player-by-player commentary, an invaluable reference as the post mortem begins:
Alex Edler (signed through 2019) - In scoring the go-ahead goal in game four’s short lived comeback, Edler finally delivered - but it’s not nearly enough to compensate for a brutal playoff showing and another mediocre regular season. For a team that must make changes, Edler should be a prime candidate to be moved in an off-season trade (before a no movement clause kicks in). Or if he stays, might benefit from the confidence of a different coaching staff.
Kevin Bieksa (signed through 2016) - Bieksa is really a microcosm of the entire team - undisciplined at times, oft injured, a fierce competitor when it matters most but physically under sized for the style of game that makes him most effective. Despite his ridiculous soap-box whining between games 3 and 4, arguably the Canuck with the most character and likely to stay put no matter what.
Andrew Alberts (unrestricted free agent) - While his higher paid colleagues on the Canuck blue-line are performing their playoff best purse swinging, you can always count on Alberts to throw his considerable weight around. And in a Western Conference that now places more emphasis on girth than footspeed, his value has increased, but the Canucks will have little to spend this off-season.
Mason Raymond (unrestricted free agent) - Popular misconception is that Raymond has never recovered from the devastating back injury in the Stanley Cup Final 2 seasons ago. Fact is he sucked the entire season before that. While many were impressed by his jump in game 4, it was typical Raymond - flash and dash with little result. As a free agent, he should be gone. If only it had been sooner.
Keith Ballard (signed through 2015) - The finances dictate that he can’t stay here any longer and will be bought out. Despite a ravaged blue line at many points during his three year stay here, he could never get the confidence of coach AV. And now it’s too late. A wasted resource here with blame for the player, coach and general manager. Time to move on, already.
Alex Burrows (signed through 2017) - It’s impossible to question his work ethic. It is easy to question his hands - his conversion rate of chances to goals makes us long for the days of Anson Carter. And no matter what, he can never shake the reputation bestowed upon him costing the Canucks far too many shorthanded situations. Like Edler, he’s a player that could fetch something on the trade market.
Ryan Kesler (signed through 2016) - For the 3rd period of game 2 versus San Jose, it appeared that the vintage Kesler had miraculously resurrected himself. But it didn’t last. As much as he’s often the heart and soul of this team, you sometimes wonder whether he really wants to be here. You’d think playing hockey for a living should be fun.
Roberto Luongo (signed through eternity) - Yes, Luongo was the Canucks’ best player for most of games 1 and 2. Except for the most important parts of the games when he got a little leaky. He will be gone before training camp though with only a bag of pucks in return.
Cory Schneider (signed through 2015) - In the regular season, was the MVP and is seemingly the centrepiece of the organization moving forward. But you have to wonder about the way he finished games 3 and 4 - were there lingering effects of an injury or was he collapsing under the pressure? We’ve another year to find out.
Chris Tanev (restricted free agent) - With the collective poor play of the defense during this playoff run in his absence, his continued growth will be vital next season. He’s due for a raise, like there is room for that.
Maxim Lapierre (unrestricted free agent) - Along with Kesler and Burrows, the player most responsible for the Canucks’ horrid reputation with the NHL officials. Does he provide enough value otherwise to compensate for that?
Jordan Schroeder (restricted free agent) - With Cody Hodgson now long gone, he represents the only Gillis draft pick to see measurable minutes at the NHL level and while he proved serviceable, there was little demonstrated to indicate that he’s capable of a top six forward role. He’s undersized for anything else.
Andrew Ebbett (unrestricted free agent) - It’s hard to imagine that any team with Stanley Cup aspirations would consider having a spot for a player like Ebbett. He’s a real indictment of how far the depth of the Canucks’ forward crew has slipped in recent years. There’s little to choose between him and Schroeder, except the latter’s youth.
Chris Higgins (signed through 2017) - Having bounced around the league before recently securing a long term deal here, it’s hard to imagine that he’s going anywhere. For the most part, he’s the kind of player the Canucks need more of. Here’s hoping that the security of his new contract doesn’t dull his inspiration.
Derek Roy (unrestricted free agent) - Likely to sign a contract elsewhere, becoming perhaps the worst deadline acquisition in Canuck history - and that is saying something. I suppose we should have seen this coming. When a team in dire need of size and grit adds a pint-sized play-maker instead, you get a first round sweep as a result. This move alone should require Mike Gillis to return his 2011 GM of the Year award. At least, Ryan Kesler doesn’t have to pout about playing on the wing any more.
Dan Hamhuis (signed through 2016) - The Canucks’ steadiest defensive defender had a difficult playoff. And we still don’t get why he sees any power play minutes. Despite that, he remains Mike Gillis’ most successful free agent signing. And after 5 years, that is not saying much.
Henrik Sedin (signed through 2014) - We’re at the point now where their continued playoff struggles cannot be defended. For this team to move forward with greater aspirations, they can’t be counted upon as the first line unit. It’s as simple as that.
Daniel Sedin (signed through 2014) - Yes, the boarding call was a joke. But the series was effectively over at that point with the Sedins having failed to deliver prominently in the post-season again. They can and, likely, will stay. But they need replacing as the go-to guys. Where’s that Cody Hodgson?
Zack Kassian (signed through 2014) - The time has passed for the Canucks to pooh or get off the pot as it pertains to the wild child. He clearly has a physical presence and skill set that is worth plenty. And he will clearly turn the puck over and take some boneheaded penalties. But it’s time to let the puppy off the leash. And with Alain Vigneault likely gone, it just might happen.
Tom Sestito (unrestricted free agent) - His size is a bonus, but he’s replaceable. And likely will be.
David Booth (signed through 2015) - His injury troubles have made it difficult to pass judgement on him, but the team has performed worse with him in the line-up. Either way, it’s a lot of money spent on what remains an unknown quantity. Clearly, a candidate for a buyout.
Jannik Hansen (signed through 2014) - Arguably, displays the most consistent work ethic of any player, but didn’t produce offensively at all come playoff time. On an elite team, he’s no more than a third line option.
Dale Weise (unrestricted free agent) - Weise probably has more speed and skill than he gets to demonstrate. And as a fourth line role player, he is undersized. It’s hard to figure where he fits.
Steve Pinizzotto (unrestricted free agent) - For a 28 year old guy that had never played an NHL game before this season, there was considerable buzz. But he failed to make any measurable impact.
Jason Garrison (signed through 2018) - Garrison was about the only pleasant surprise in the abbreviated playoff run. Why he didn’t get more power play time this season is a mystery known only to Coach Vigneault. With the struggles of Alex Edler and the continued injuries to Kevin Bieksa, his role on this team will become more prominent.
Cam Barker (unrestricted free agent) - Expectations were met from this depth defender, low as they were. He will likely not return.
Frank Corrado (signed through 2015) - His insertion into the line-up down the stretch and into the playoffs was a big surprise. The kid delivered in limited minutes and along with Tanev provides some reason for optimism on the blue-line.
Stay tuned as we dissect the eagerly awaited post-season sugar coating from President and General Manager Mike Gillis.
With another early playoff exit in the books, there will be the standard protestations about the coach, the general manager, the Sedins, the referees, leaky clutch goaltending, lack of secondary scoring and persistent sloppy defense. But most of all, with the Canucks crushing defeat to the San Jose Sharks, the signs of cracks in the Canuck leadership core are everywhere.
There seemed to be little respect for the opposition, a Shark team that had finished the regular season as dominantly as they had started it. The San Jose franchise, it seems, has quickly morphed from moribund underachievers to a confident veteran group now buoyed by youthful character and a commitment to sounder defensive play.
As the games of the regular season were counting down, most in Canuck nation were licking their collective chops about a match-up against the Sharks - seemingly an easier draw than the more physical and youthful Los Angeles Kings or St. Louis Blues.
How good the Sharks really are will be proven in the coming weeks, but it seems clear that the Canucks (as evidenced by their poor starts to each and every game against San Jose this series and all season, for that matter) were an ill prepared lot. To a man, this team took their opposition too lightly, an indictment of the Canuck coaching staff to be sure.
As the series progressed, the public commentary from players and coaches alike had the Canucks sounding like petulant pouters (something everyone else in the league already had them pegged for anyway).
So was it any surprise that the day after Canuck defender Kevin Bieksa openly ripped the officiating the Canucks found themselves on the receiving end of questionable calls at the most crucial times?
Make no mistake, the NHL is the most poorly officiated professional sport. And the neanderthalic old boys network that runs the game won’t be seeing the light any time soon. But there are far better ways to get your point across than publicly embarrassing guys that are simply trying to do their job.
It was a bold, desperate, but stupid play by Bieksa, one that was apparently endorsed by the Canuck organization, and one, in the short term anyway, that cost this team the series.
Of course, it wouldn’t have mattered in the end. This team was not prepared enough for what the Sharks were bringing. Nor were they determined and disciplined enough to do anything about it. Their play in the third period last night confirmed all you needed to know. At full desperation, the team finally appeared in full flight, but after nearly four games, it was simply too late.
Coach Alain Vigneault has always been one to defer to his veteran leadership group, which was clearly a mistake this time around. The consistent required urgency in their play was mostly missing. And when things didn’t go their way, the childish complaining commenced.
The loss reflects poorly on the ownership group, who, for the time being at least, don’t have to answer any more questions about exorbitantly priced playoff tickets that aren’t selling.
In the end, it would be a whole lot easier to blame this loss on shoddy goalkeeping, an ineffective penalty kill, a lack of size and grit or an aging veteran core. And while all those may apply, the bigger issue here is one of leadership, one that has arrogantly permeated from the top on down. And one that may not be simply fixed by just a coaching change.
That, of course, is the question on everyone’s mind these days, casual fan or otherwise. And at no point in Canuck history has there been such a polarized response.
As the defending two-time President’s Trophy winners and near Stanley Cup champ two years ago, this exact team, more or less, has been recently elite and on everyone’s short list to win it all.
But based on the uneven and sometimes injury plagued play of this lockout-shortened campaign (backed only by the superlative play of Cory Schneider), the Canucks, in the eyes of many, are on target for another embarrassing first round exit.
The core personnel from the 2011 team remains intact, improved by the upgrade in goal of Schneider over Roberto Luongo and the pick-up of a legitimate second line playmaker in Derek Roy.
So on that simple basis, this team should have another shot at winning it all. And that is certainly what Canuck management would be selling you.
But you should recall last regular season wasn’t as impressive as advertised. The Canucks were bailed out consistently by their elite goaltending tandem and feasted on poor divisional opponents. The power play, that had ruled the league in 2011, was beginning to show the cracks in a foundation that would crumble completely this season.
And, of course, there was the overriding issue of lack of size and playoff grit up front - an issue that first haunted them in the Cup Final loss to Boston and was a contributing factor in last year’s early playoff exit - and one that remains unaddressed.
Mike Gillis has been quoted as saying that luck is one of the biggest components of playoff success. And he’s right. This particular version of the Canucks has been most susceptible to injury - perhaps an indictment of the Canucks’ declining depth. This team, it seems, will need more than just a little luck to get back to the promised land.
So while the memories of the 2011 near miss are most fresh in our minds, it would be wise to lower our expectations for this team - a team, that on paper, looks a whole lot more like the 2007 Canucks than they do the Stanley Cup finalists of two years past.
That team, buoyed by the other worldly goaltending of Robero Luongo, featured a veteran forward group that struggled to score (thirty-six year old Trevor Linden led the team in playoff scoring) and was bounced in the second round by the eventual Cup champion Anaheim Ducks.
Some things could happen this time around. Kevin Bieksa, Chris Higgins and Chris Tanev could get healthy and remain so. The Sedins and Ryan Kesler could resurrect their power play magic. Zack Kassian could emerge as a consistent physical, yet disciplined force. And Derek Roy just might provide second line offensive production, as advertised.
But other things will most certainly happen. The Canucks’ overall depth will be tested by the rigors of playoff hockey. The aged forward group will struggle to score, particularly at even strength. The team, as a whole, will get pushed around by bigger younger teams like Los Angeles and St. Louis. Cory Schneider will stand on his head.
You add all that up and a reasonable conclusion is another first round loss, or, if they are a little lucky, an unsuccessful trip to the second round.
After acquiring centre Derek Roy yesterday, Canucks’ Assistant General Manager, Laurence Gilman, was quoted as saying that his team was “fertile” and would be going “all in” at this trade deadline. Specifically, he expected one or two more deals to get done.
One day later, the trade deadline has expired and nothing more has happened. The typical excuses will be forthcoming. “It was a sellers’ market”. “We don’t want to mortgage our future”. “We like our team as is”. “Ryan Kesler is coming back”. “Derek Roy is a versatile player”.
And some or all of them may apply. But we should realize that the words of the Canucks’ upper management have not been in sync with their actions for quite some time.
You will recall last season’s trade deadline. The Canucks, defending Western Conference champs, traded an emerging player, Cody Hodgson, for a player that was, and remains, an enigmatic prospect - Zack Kassian. This was hardly the action of a team that was trying to load up for a Stanley Cup run.
Further, when it became clear that Cory Schneider was an elite NHL goalie, the team opted to keep him and attempt to move Roberto Luongo. Seemingly, another decision that did not fit well with a team that was aiming to win during their window of opportunity. Seemingly, Schneider would be more valuable on the trade front than the aging Luongo and his gaudy salary.
And now, another deadline has passed with the only acquisition being Derek Roy. Roy will be a valuable component on a team that has been without a 2nd and 3rd line centre all season. He is a play-making pivot on a team that is in dire need of such. But it is hard to imagine that he will be enough to elevate the level of play to Stanley Cup contender.
Mike Gillis’ handling of the Luongo matter is fodder for another blog piece. But it appears that Gillis’ arrogance has gotten in the way of getting a deal done.
With one year to trade his prized keeper, Gillis has not been able to pull the trigger, seemingly unaware that a player’s market value is simply represented by whatever the highest bidder is prepared to pay.
You don’t need to look too far to see what other teams have done in similar circumstances. You will recall Chris Pronger’s speedy exit from Edmonton. Or Jaroslav Halak’s quick departure from Montreal when it became clear he and Carey Price similarly couldn’t occupy the same net.
By continuing to defer on the matter, Gillis is speculating enormously and, in the end, doing his franchise a disservice. But the conclusion is pretty elementary.
The Aquilinis, despite claims to the contrary, aren’t really all that concerned about a Stanley Cup win. Ongoing competitive play and a handful of playoff dates year-after-year is fine.
And from a bottom line perspective, it likely is. But the next time you hear someone from the Canuck brass declare that they are “all in”, you must know they are only bluffing.
Ryan Kesler is hurt. Again. Zack Kassian is back in the doghouse. And, the infinitely spinning goalie carousel does just that.
Kesler, whose performance had faded after an initial promising return from his latest round of injury woes, has broken a bone in his foot. The injury occurred last week in Dallas, explaining the former all-star center’s struggles in the past few games.
What has to be quite disturbing to all is that Kesler has morphed into the injury riddled Sami Salo. It is not like he’s had a chronic problem ailing him the last couple of seasons, instead suffering all manner of seemingly unrelated injuries - hips, wrist, shoulder and now foot.
It is becoming clear that the feisty straw that stirs the drink may never appear in the line-up consistently enough to have the required impact. It is impossible to imagine this Canuck team maintaining any kind of extended success without a healthy Kesler.
Earlier this season, with both Kesler and David Booth out of the line-up, Zack Kassian saw some first line minutes and played well enough to deserve more of them. But instead, he has found himself in Alain Vigneault’s doghouse once again. Things bottomed out last night as the robust winger saw only six minutes of ice time.
Contrast that to Buffalo’s treatment of Cody Hodgson, the player controversially dealt in exchange for Kassian last season. This season, Hodgson has played over 20 minutes most nights and never less than 17 in a single game.
It is really hard to tell exactly what the plan is for Kassian, notably a year younger than the man he will be forever compared to. But he certainly looked comfortable and effective playing top line minutes earlier this season, bringing his unique combination of skill and sandpaper as advertised.
Now he is back to patrolling the fourth line - a lose/lose proposition if there ever was one. Is it any coincidence that the Canucks’ poorest play this season has corresponded with the times when Kassian’s ice-time has been reduced? If there is an upside to the Kesler injury, it would be the chance for Kassian to get more minutes again.
Based on Cory Schneider’s post game comments last night, he is clearly bristling from something. Whether he’s unhappy with his recent inconsistent play or the ongoing melodrama of who’s the number one keeper in this market is not clear. But it’s not an optimal situation obviously.
We’ve been adamant, ever since it appeared that this market couldn’t accommodate both of these elite keepers, that Luongo should be moved sooner rather than later.
We reiterate that 33 year-old netminders don’t appreciate. The Canucks have gambled on this matter, waiting until situations force the hands of other teams into desperate positions. The opposite, unfortunately, is now true.
Chicago seemingly can’t lose with their current goaltending tandem. The Leafs are off to their best start in a decade. The cash strapped Florida Panthers have wisely opted to play their prized prospect between the pipes. And the Oilers are happy to ride Devan Dubnyk, their goalie of the future who is finally delivering consistently.
So where there was once a number of potential suitors for Luongo, it’s hard to find more than one now, the perpetually goaltending challenged Flyers being the only logical destination.
As the injuries mount and the Canucks struggle, the luxury of two elite starting goaltenders is becoming stupidly extravagant. Worse yet, the Canucks may no longer be bargaining from a position of strength.
Further, the commitment to the development of the Canucks’ two cornerstone players of the future, Kassian and Schneider, ought to be consistent. Kassian seems to possess a demeanour and skill set that should be of value each and every night. And Schneider, as the proclaimed number one goalie during the off-season, should get the same chance his predecessor did to get his game on track.
One thing is for sure, should the Canucks continue to struggle in the coming weeks, the pressure on Mike Gillis may finally reach a tipping point, forcing the organizational flip-flopping to end.
While Manny Malhotra’s career seems to have tragically ended, we should be careful not to overstate his on-ice value to this club.
The tragic eye injury that has derailed his career occurred nearly two years ago. In the end, only Malhotra’s first season in Vancouver was a healthy and valuable one.
During that season, the face-off whiz centered the Canucks’ most dependable third line in years and led the top penalty killing unit in the league.
But since the injury, the only real value Malhotra has been able to provide is in the face-off dot. And while his superiority there cannot be denied, it’s relative value can be.
Winning face-offs, particularly short-handed in the defensive zone, is critical. But the relative performance in the dot by a genius like Malhotra (whose career face-off rate in Vancouver has been 61%) versus the next available guy might be ten percentage points, at best.
So in your typical game, Manny might take seven such face-offs. Thus in any one game, he’d win less than one more defensive zone face-off than the next guy. That’s not much to stake your career on. And it’s certainly not worth $2.5 million per year.
Make no mistake, the news of Malhotra’s demise is a sad one - a valued team leader and community ambassador has been cut down in his prime. But on the ice, the Manny of lore has been gone for quite some time.
His absence from the line-up given his condition hasn’t and won’t be noticeable. And his intangible value to the franchise can easily be retained should he have the opportunity and will to stay with the club in some capacity.